Finding Beauty in the Cracks

CeramicsCeramics artist Bai Ming, who spoke at the OFA Ceramics Program this week, talks about the beauty of imperfection. His show runs through Dec. 2 at Lacoste Gallery in Boston. 

By Truelian Lee '21

Once, after Bai Ming worked for six months on a 1.4-meter by 80-centimeter sculpture, the piece shattered during firing. However, instead of despairing, the famous contemporary ceramic artist found beauty in the failure.

“I really liked it because all the fragments could express the power of fire, and how fire turned the ceramics in different pieces,” he said. “It reminded me of how 30,000 years ago, people had to use crude stone tools to

Bai Ming
Bai Ming
make ceramics, and about the imperfect but beautiful results. So, I made an installation with all these pieces to show their shapes.”

Ming held a workshop on Friday, and shared his artistic journey and process. Ming is an artist, writer and teacher who has received various awards, including the Gold Prize at the 1993 Boya Oil Painting Competition and the Gold Prize at the 2000 Invitational Exhibition of China Young Ceramics Artists, 2000. He will be exhibiting his work at the Lacoste Gallery in Boston starting November 11.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in a mixture of English and Mandarin. Responses have been translated and condensed. Jessica Bai, Bai Ming’s daughter, contributed to the translations.

What about ceramics attracts you?
Ceramics is very beautiful. After I studied ceramics, I fell in love with it. I like the whole process, that there is this soft clay, and I can use my hands to shape it and fire it. Ceramics is also really special because it takes so long to make the whole piece, so you may really think a lot about it. The pieces themselves are so fragile after firing. I am fascinated with ceramics, and now that I’m older, I find myself fascinated about different parts of ceramics.

You mentioned that as time passed, you became attracted to different parts of ceramics. Could you please elaborate?
When I was younger, all the decorations appealed to me, and I only liked the final step of my artistic process and how it looked then. Now, I am more fascinated with the process, like how I use my hands to connect
Ceramics vasewith the clay, and how I mark details with my hands. Also, I used to only like the perfection in ceramics, but now I don’t mind the cracks. So now I do not pay as much attention to how it looks, but rather what the whole structure of the work and the concept is. I will experiment more. Now in my works, maybe in the same series, I will try to use different kilns to fire them and make them in different environments ­– maybe sometimes I’ll use a gas kiln or wood kiln – to test the effects.

What can you express in ceramics that you can’t express in other artistic disciplines?
I have found that ceramics allows me to really think about a project, because I spend a lot of time developing each piece. I will find my ideas changing throughout the process. Another part of ceramic’s charm is that I can’t completely control it. I’ve done oil painting and ink painting before, and without that experience, I would have never known that ceramics is such an unpredictable art. This fascinates me, because I never know what will happen in the end.

What advice do you have for Harvard students who aspire to be artists?
My advice has two points, but it can be summed up by one Chinese phrase, which is to keep nurturing curiosity and keep your uniqueness ­– whether it is with your technique or ideas or feelings – intact. I believe this advice has to do with your lifestyle, your goals and the way you handle your emotions. For those who are encountering obstacles along the way, remember that confusion is a close friend to humanity. It’s part of the human condition. I also get lost and perplexed at times. We can be confused about art, but we can never stop making art and making pieces. As a ceramics artist, the most important thing to you is how you understand the work you’re doing and about your hands, the clay, and the fire. If we keep working and making more pieces, we will get through the trying times. If you keep persevering for maybe four, five years, you will look around one day and realize that you are closer to being the artist you wanted to become.